Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
When they realised he was truthful, (They said: Pray for us unto your Lord That He make clear to us what she is) whether the cow is large or small. (Moses answered: Lo! He saith, Verily she is a cow neither old nor immature; (she is) between the two conditions) neither large nor small; (so do that which ye are commanded) and ask no further questions.
But when they realised that he was being serious, They said, ‘Pray to your Lord for us, that He may make clear to us what she may be’, its true nature, He, Moses, said, ‘He, God, says she is a cow neither old, nor virgin, that is, young, middling between the two, in terms of age; so do what you have been commanded’, by way of sacrificing it.
They said, 'Pray to your Lord for us, that He may make clear to us what she may be', that is, ask your Lord for us, 'What is itḍ' He said, 'He says she is a cow neither old, in other words, neither of old age such that its preparedness has disappeared and it is engrained in its convictions with its voraciousness for its habits, as with the Sufi after who after the age of 40 becomes [spiritually] 'cold'; nor virgin, a youth, whose preparedness falls short of what is [spiritually] required of her and who finds it difficult to bear spiritual discipline, subjugated as she is by the natural powers and her own power; middling, halfway, between that, mentioned; [so do what you have been commanded'].
The Stubbornness of the Jews regarding the Cow; Allah made the Matter difficult for Them
Allah mentioned the stubbornness of the Children of Israel and the many unnecessary questions they asked their Messengers. This is why when they were stubborn, Allah made the decisions difficult for them. Had they slaughtered a cow, any cow, it would have been sufficient for them, as Ibn `Abbas and `Ubaydah have said. Instead, they made the matter difficult, and this is why Allah made it even more difficult for them. They said,
ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّنَ لَّنَا مَا هِىَ
(Call upon your Lord for us that He may make plain to us what it is!), meaning, "What is this cow and what is its description'' Musa said,
(He says, `Verily, it is a cow neither too old nor too young'), meaning, that it is neither old nor below the age of breeding. This is the opinion of Abu Al-`Aliyah, As-Suddi, Mujahid, `Ikrimah, `Atiyah Al-`Awfi, `Ata', Al-Khurasani, Wahb bin Munabbih, Ad-Dahhak, Al-Hasan, Qatadah and Ibn `Abbas. Ad-Dahhak reported that Ibn `Abbas said that,
عَوَانٌ بَيْنَ ذلِكَ
(But (it is) between the two conditions) means, "Neither old nor young. Rather, she was at the age when the cow is strongest and fittest.'' In his Tafsir Al-`Awfi reported from Ibn `Abbas that,
(bright in its colour) "A deep yellowish white.''
(pleasing the beholder) meaning, that it pleases those who see it. This is also the opinion of Abu Al-`Aliyah, Qatadah and Ar-Rabi` bin Anas. Furthermore, Wahb bin Munabbih said, "If you look at the cow's skin, you will think that the sun's rays radiate through its skin.'' The modern version of the Tawrah mentions that the cow in the Ayah was red, but this is an error. Or, it might be that the cow was so yellow that it appeared blackish or reddish in color. Allah's knows best.
إِنَّ البَقَرَ تَشَـبَهَ عَلَيْنَا
(Verily, to us all cows are alike) this means, that since cows are plentiful, then describe this cow for us further,
وَإِنَّآ إِن شَآءَ اللَّهُ
(And surely, if Allah wills) and if you further describe it to us,
(He says, `It is a cow neither trained to till the soil nor water the fields') meaning, it is not used in farming, or for watering purposes. Rather, it is honorable and fair looking. `Abdur-Razzaq said that Ma`mar said that Qatadah said that,
(sound) means, "The cow does not suffer from any defects.'' This is also the opinion of Abu Al-`Aliyah and Ar-Rabi`. Mujahid also said that the Ayah means the cow is free from defects. Further, `Ata' Al-Khurasani said that the Ayah means that its legs and body are free of physical defects.
Also, Ad-Dahhak said that Ibn `Abbas said that the Ayah,
فَذَبَحُوهَا وَمَا كَادُواْ يَفْعَلُونَ
(So they slaughtered it though they were near to not doing it) means, "They did not want to slaughter it.''
This means that even after all the questions and answers about the cow's description, the Jews were still reluctant to slaughter the cow. This part of the Qur'an criticized the Jews for their behavior, because their only goal was to be stubborn, and this is why they nearly did not slaughter the cow. Also, `Ubaydah, Mujahid, Wahb bin Munabbih, Abu Al-`Aliyah and `Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam said, "The Jews bought the cow with a large amount of money.'' There is a difference of opinion over this.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
The Israelites were commanded to sacrifice a cow in order to rid them of the sanctity and worship of cow which they had adopted from the pagan nations around them. It was a test of their faith: if they really believed in Allah as their only Deity and did not make anyone or anything else the object of their worship, they should break the idol of their former worship with their own hands. But this proved to be a very hard test. They tried to evade and avoid the sacrifice because their belief in One God had not become firm as yet. They went on asking one detail after the other in order to put it off, but the more questions they asked the more they were driven into a tight corner. So much so that at last they were specifically told to sacrifice that very golden-coloured cow, which was being specially chosen for worship at that time. The Bible also mentions this incident, but does not tell how the Israelites tried to put it off by asking a number of unnecessary questions. (Please refer to Numbers, 19: 1-10).
And when Moses said to his people “God commands you to sacrifice a cow.” It was obligatory for them to execute the command directly but they wasted time with external appearances imagining that they had the leisure to linger in their digression from the obligation of the covenant. So their misery was doubled and the ignominy they had been warned about overtook them. When He said: “She is a cow neither old nor virgin middling between the two... ” [2:68] it meant she would be neither young nor aged but somewhere between the two. The allusion is to the fact that one who is suited for this path Ṭarīqa is one who is neither attracted by the impetuosity of youth and its drunkenness nor paralyzed by the weakness and frailty of old age. Rather he is alert; he has regained consciousness from his drunkenness yet retains some of the vigor of his youth.